Book review: populist backlash could be good for democracy

Book review: The New Authoritarianism The populist backlash against the role of experts in the political process isn't such a bad thing, says Professor Salvatore Babones.


Trump, Populism and theTyranny of Experts

Polity Press (£9.99)

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Become a smarter, better informed investor with MoneyWeek.

Buy on Amazon

The past few years have seen a populist backlash against the role of experts in the political process. Some view this as a return to the dark ages. Professor Salvatore Babones, of the University of Sydney, argues it isn't so bad. The backlash may even be healthy for democracy.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Large swathes of public life have been taken out of the hands of elected governments and given over to unelected technocrats. These technocrats accuse their populist opponents of being closet authoritarians, yet, as Babones argues, their own support for democracy is conditional on the public endorsing their preferred outcomes. When the public doesn't respond appropriately, by voting for the "wrong" policy or candidate, they either refuse to accept the outcome or use every means possible to undermine it. European governments pressed on with European integration, for example, despite the results of referendums in France, the Netherlands and Ireland.

This is not to endorse individual populist politicians, nor to dismiss liberalism. It's just that liberalism's dominance has been bad for it, because it has moved it from its traditional role of exerting a moderating influence on the excesses of both right and left. Babones's criticisms of the status quo may strike some as overwrought, but his monograph is an original and provocative contribution to the debate.




Six contrarian books for Christmas

Merryn Somerset Webb picks six of her favourite contrarian books to help you look clever and perhaps win a few arguments over the Christmas dinner tab…
9 Dec 2019

Coming to terms with Anna Sorokin

My Friend Anna: The true story of the fake heiress of New York CityWilliams is a solid writer who does a good job of explaining how she, and other int…
21 Aug 2019

Book in the news… the inside story of Spain’s tumultuous crisis

After the Fall Crisis, Recovery and the Making of a New SpainA book that goes beyond politics to offer a deeply sympathetic portrayal of a country.
21 Aug 2019

An offbeat take on economics

Review: This Giant Beast That is the Global EconomyA new TV series outfreaks Freakonomics.
20 Aug 2019

Most Popular


Want to make money in 2020? Gold and silver are looking like a good bet

If you want to make money from investing, says Dominic Frisby, it’s simple: find a bull market and go long. And in 2020 gold and silver are in a bull …
22 Jan 2020
Global Economy

The charts that matter: coronavirus – or a liquidity air pocket?

With the yield curve showing worrying signs of flatlining again. John Stepek wonders what's to blame and turns to the charts that matter most to the g…
25 Jan 2020
Share tips

Share tips of the week

MoneyWeek’s comprehensive guide to the best of this week’s share tips from the rest of the UK's financial pages.
24 Jan 2020
Investment strategy

The coronavirus is scary – but it's irrelevant to your investments

The spread of the coronavirus is causing alarm around the world. And, while it could be a serious short-term threat to human health, it’s not somethin…
24 Jan 2020